The Institute for Justice recently published the third edition of its “Policing for Profit” report, a document that analyses civil forfeiture policies across the US and gives each state a scorecard based on how favorable its laws are for property owners.
The report gave New Jersey a ‘D-’ grade for its civil forfeiture laws, saying the state has a “higher bar to forfeit in limited cases,” but has a weak conviction provision that forces property owners to engage in a costly legal battle to win back their property.
Civil asset forfeiture is a legal tool used by law enforcement to seize property (cash, vehicles, real estate, etc.) they suspect is connected to criminal activity. This tool can be used without charging the property owner for a crime.
According to the Institute for Justice report, New Jersey law enforcement agencies have collected at least $349 million in forfeiture proceeds over the last 20 years. The agencies forfeited more than $166 million under state law between 2009 and 2019 based on publicly available data. They collected an additional $183 million from federal equitable sharing, which is a program that allows state and local law enforcement agencies to bypass state law and partner with the federal government to seize and forfeit property under federal rules.
New Jersey has attempted to reform its civil forfeiture laws as recently as 2020. During the last legislative session, two pairs of bills—A4970 and S3441—were signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy. The bills, which received bipartisan support in both chambers of the legislature, revised the state’s procedures for certain asset forfeiture proceedings and now require a criminal conviction for forfeiture of seized assets in a number of instances.
“The government cannot be allowed to seize property without due process,” said State Assemblyman Nick Chiaravalloti, D-Hudson, who sponsored A4970, in a news release. “The way our current civil forfeiture system works is unconstitutional and vulnerable to potential abuses. I am excited that we are taking the issue seriously and legislating meaningful reform.”
Proponents of civil forfeiture claim it is a necessary tool for fighting crime, as it gives law enforcement the power to seize the illicit profits of large criminal enterprises. However, critics argue that the practice violates basic due process rights. The forfeited proceeds are also often absorbed into law enforcement budgets, which creates what critics consider to be a profit incentive for police to conduct unnecessary seizures at the cost of Americans’ constitutional rights.
The theory that civil forfeiture deters crime was debunked by the Institute of Justice using data from New Mexico, which completely abolished civil forfeiture in 2015. An analysis of FBI crime statistics showed the state’s crime rates have remained steady in the years following the reforms. New Mexico is the only state to receive the highest grade—an “A”—in the Institute for Justice report.
Unless other states follow New Mexico’s lead, Americans will continue to have their lawful property seized by law enforcement, even if they have not been formally charged for a crime. If your property has been seized by police or federal agents using civil forfeiture, then you should immediately contact an experienced civil forfeiture defense attorney.
South Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has your property been seized by police or federal agents? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with a nationwide federal civil asset forfeiture attorney.